Introduction: Although there is evidence to suggest a high rate of cerebrovascular complications in patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection, anecdotal reports indicate a falling rate of new ischemic stroke diagnoses. We conducted an exploratory single-center analysis to estimate the change in number of new stroke diagnoses in our region, and evaluate the proximate reasons for this change during the COVID-19 pandemic at a tertiary care center in New Jersey.
Patients and methods: A Comprehensive Stroke Center prospective cohort was retrospectively analyzed for the number of stroke admissions, demographic features, and short-term outcomes 5 months prior to 3/1/2020 (pre-COVID-19), and in the 6 weeks that followed (COVID-19 period). The primary outcome was the number of new acute stroke diagnoses before and during the COVID-19 period, as well as the potential reasons for a decline in the number of new diagnoses.
Results: Of the 328 included patients, 53 (16%) presented in the COVID-19 period. There was a mean fall of 38% in new stroke diagnoses (mean 1.13/day [SD 1.07] from 1.82/day [SD 1.38], p<0.01), which was related to a 59% decline in the number of daily transfers from referral centers (p<0.01), 25% fewer telestroke consultations (p=0.08), and 55% fewer patients presenting directly to our institution by private vehicle (p<0.01) and 29% fewer patients through emergency services (p=0.09). There was no significant change in the monthly number of strokes due to large vessel occlusion (LVO), however the proportion of new LVOs nearly doubled in the COVID-19 period (38% vs. 21%, p=0.01).
Conclusions: The observations at our tertiary care center corroborate anecdotal reports that the number of new stroke diagnoses is falling, which seems related to a smaller proportion of patients seeking healthcare services for milder symptoms. These preliminary data warrant validation in larger, multi-center studies.
Keywords: COVID-19; Coronavirus; Epidemiology; Incidence; Ischemic Stroke.
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